IMG 5576Producing a news or sports show with a word processing program can be frustrating.

In my TV Broadcasting Course we did a lot of cutting and pasting, trading files, and working through formatting problems with the teleprompter, etc. This is the way we had been doing it at my school for the last seven years. As a former producer who went from seven-part, carbon copy, color-coded sheets typed on IBM Selectric Typewriters to the Associated Press ENPS system, I knew there had to be a better way.

ENPS is a great system, but in my opinion not budget friendly in the education setting. You can never own the program; there is a yearly fee that is in the IMG 5587$8,000+ dollar range at last check. I knew there had to be other options.

I first met Matt Peschau at the LACUE (Louisiana Computer Using Educators) conference in Baton Rouge a couple of years ago when he was giving demos of EZNews. I was very impressed; it actually seemed easy to use and very powerful. What’s more impressive is the list of clients they have, including High Schools, Universities and TV Stations. An added benefit for my students would be that most of the broadcast journalism programs at the post secondary level in Louisiana are using EZNews.

This year we finally took the dive, we purchased EZNews and the experience from the installation, to the training to the implementation has been nothing but smooth.

For the installation, the program must run from a central server that all of the workstation computers can see. The recommended system is a Windows 2008 Server R2. The installation was done remotely by EZNews who worked with our ITS Department. It took less than an hour and went very smoothly.

On the workstations/laptops that will be used for scriptwriting, prompting and producing the minimum system is Windows XP with 1 GB of RAM or the recommended system is Windows 7 with 4 GB of RAM. You can also use Mac Computers running “dual-boot,” “Parallels Desktop” or “VMware.” We haven’t tried this setup yet, but I did see Matt demo it at NAB this year and it seemed to work flawlessly.

The workstations should be connected by ethernet cable to the network because you don’t run the EZNews program on the individual workstations, you run it off of the server through the network. That way, the producer station talks to the director station, which talks to a script-writing station, which in turn talks to the prompter and any changes are made globally and instantly.

In my situation we are just scratching the surface of what EZNews is capable of doing. My class produces a weekly 30-minute sports show called “On The Prowl” which showcases the football/sports programs at the two high schools in my district. We use the show rundown, script-writing and prompting functions currently, but it is capable of so much more.

I would imagine that most High School programs would need the same features of EZNews that I am using, so I’ll focus on those aspects of the program. First, at the basic level is script-writing. The two-column script is so much more than a place to type the text for the anchors read. The script includes places for anchor notes, director notes, timing and CG information. None of my students had a problem picking up the script formatting and how the technical information is added to the script. A button on the interface accesses most functions and then you choose from a dropdown menu such items as anchor name or camera cue.

Take5Next is the rundown and producing function built into the program. The rundown is not just a place to stack your show, it includes front timing, back timing, and indicators whether you are heavy or light. It will automatically estimate the reading time of a script. For the adlib or Q&A segments you can manually put in those times on the rundown. One of the coolest features is that the adlib or Q&A segments display a countdown timer on the teleprompter for the anchor. This has really helped us this year in staying on time for the show. EZNews also has a function to time breaks in your show that also displays a countdown timer on the prompter screen.

Stories are also easily moved up and down the rundown or can be dropped by moving the story below the “end of show” line. Also, as the producer moves or changes a script, those changes are instantly reflected in the prompter and directors view of the show. Speaking of the director’s view, there is a special way to display the rundown with camera cues and anchor reads on a screen. That’s one less set of scripts that would normally need to be printed. Also, any changes made by the producer are instantly changed in the director view.

A pleasant surprise for me was how easy the prompter was to use. You can literally teach any student to use it in minutes. A standard two-button mouse with a scroll-wheel controls the prompter. Also, we are running it off of a seven-year-old Windows XP machine and it’s been running great, so it obviously doesn’t take a lot of computing power. For the anchor, it’s full color, so the text to be read is one color, the anchor notes are another color and the timer is yet another color and all the colors are customizable.

A feature I’ve never seen on any other news system is the ability to “test-prompt” from any workstation on the network. This gives the anchors the ability to give the show a read-through on their own or for the reporter to check their formatting on the prompter. This is yet another very cool feature.

Then after your show is “in the can” there is an archive function that allows you to save a show rundown with all the scripts. The archive is also fully text-searchable so you can always look up past stories.

Some of the features we will soon be incorporating in my class are the Assignments function where you can store scripts, story ideas, notes and story assignments. We are also looking at a new character generator system in my control room so we plan on incorporating the CG interface, which is sold separately by EZNews. When using the interface, after a “super” or lower-third is typed into the script it is automatically sent to the Character Generator.

Once again, at my school we are only scratching the surface of what EZNews is capable of doing. It truly is an all-in-one news production system and lives up to its name of “EZ.” To see more of the functions and screen shots of the interface I suggest going to the EZNews website and taking the guided tour.

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